As I sat across the table from my friend, Pastor Randy, I had a tightness in my chest and I was feeling somewhat anxious. I needed to come clean with him on an issue that I had been struggling with. I had finally decided that this issue had snake bitten me too many times and I was going to deal with it. Bringing it out into the light first with God, then my wife and now Pastor Randy, who I didn’t know all that well at the time. I supposed that he would be verbally supportive, but that his eyes would cast shame on me and that he would think long and hard before involving me in any leadership roles at church. What happened next shocked me.
I suppose that my shock was based on several false assumptions about God, Pastors and Randy. Although I knew about God from a life-time of bible studies and I had good experiences with Pastors, I still felt an instinctive sense of shame that trumped everything else. I had somehow constructed a belief that God required me to prove my sincerity through my actions and attitude before his stern look of shame could begin to soften. I’m not entirely sure where I picked that up, but IT WAS NOT FROM GOD. You see, God doesn’t use shame like a club to beat us into submission. He desires to remove shame – a misconception of who we are and what we’re worth. He is also realistic about the need to remove it often. He knows who he is dealing with. He had a plan of redemption from the very beginning. He is never surprised or shocked when I blow it. When I come into the light and agree with him that I have blown it, he is gracious and instantly welcomes me back with open arms and a wide smile. Shocking!
As I sat across the table from Pastor Randy, I quickly got to the matter that was on my heart and spat it out in one long breath. Before I could inhale my next breath, Randy’s eyes lit up with joy and he busted out an ear to ear grin, as he said to me, “Praise the Lord brother, you are free!” I was not expecting that, even in my most optimistic fantasy.
Could this be an appropriate response from a Pastor? How could he greet my confession of a life lived from a selfish, rebellious place with that? I didn’t even get a scripture or a “game plan for change” from him. He heard what I had said, and was genuinely excited for me and what it meant for my relationship with God. He trusted that Jesus had already done all the work and he was wanting to celebrate the victory that Jesus had in my life. No guilt. No shame. Just smiles and celebrating.
As surprising as this reaction was, after I thought about it, this is an exact representation of how God rolls. He celebrates when the prodigal comes home. He doesn’t want us to come into the light so that he can shame us, but so that he can connect with us. The exercise of confession is simply agreeing with God that you’ve made poor choices that are taking you away from him. That’s it.
It is not my declaring that I will do better next time that unlocks the freedom that Jesus purchased on the cross, but rather my confession (agreement with God). While this is not the same as repentance, it is a massive step in that direction. Once I realize that I can release the shame attached to my sin, I am perfectly set up for a U-turn of the heart (A.K.A. repentance). It can be very difficult to complete that U-turn while pulling an overloaded trailer of shame and trying to prove that, “I will do it better next time”.
Even though I have been a believer for more than 40 years, I continue to be amazed and awestruck at God’s generosity and grace towards me. I am so thankful that he chose to show it to me through my friend Pastor Randy. I pray that I can continue to embrace the good news and integrate it like Randy has, so that others may be blessed by God’s image being reflected in me and my reactions.